The first half of "Mother's Day" was not particularly successful, and yet I could see the potential for a compelling crime drama in which human nature is put under a microscope for close examination. The second half was a catastrophe, director Darren Lynn Bousman and screenwriter Scott Milam allowing it to devolve into a sadistic bloodbath. At that point, it becomes just another faceless slasher film, its potential tossed aside in favor of cruelty, elaborate death scenes, and cheap gore effects. Clearly, they entrusted this film to the wrong director, whose familiarity with the horror genre has thus far done him no favors. I eagerly await the return of the Darren Lynn Bousman who helmed "Repo! The Genetic Opera," the audacious and delightfully campy musical film about organ repossession.
Essentially an in-name-only remake of Charles Kaufman's 1980 horror film, "Mother's Day" begins with a brief prologue sequence in which an anonymous woman dressed in a nurse's uniform infiltrates a hospital and steals a baby from the maternity ward. She escaped only because a man in scrubs, presumably another member of her family, was there to graphically stab the security guard in the neck. We then flash forward to the present day – or, more accurately, to 2010, the year this movie was intended to be released in theaters before being pushed back numerous times (and will now be seen in three cities for a grand total of four days before being released on DVD). That's when we meet three brothers on the run from the law after a bank robbery gone wrong, the youngest brother, Johnny (Matt O'Leary), having been shot and their accomplice having fled with all the cash.
They're hoping that their mother can provide them with safe haven until a getaway can be arranged. But when they return to her house in a neighborhood of Wichita, they discover new furniture and all her possessions gone. They don't yet know that the house was lost in a foreclosure and that she now lives in an RV. The new owners are Beth and Daniel Sohapi (Jaime King and Frank Grillo); they're being joined by six guests as they celebrate a birthday in the basement. It isn't long before they become aware of the break-in and become hostages. This is the point at which their mother (Rebecca De Mornay) finally enters the picture and takes full control of the situation. She's a bizarre combination of a polite domestic, a firm disciplinarian, a fierce protector, and a homicidal maniac. She will repeatedly state rules to both her children and the hostages, and she will punish anyone who gets out of line.
Getting her sons across the border will require money. Her boys explain that they slowly mailed her $1,000 in cash. She obviously never got it, seeing as they didn't know about the foreclosure. This means, then, that Beth and Daniel have been receiving it. They both claim to not know what she's talking about. Mother orders everyone to hand over their debit cards and to write down their PIN numbers. She then instructs her son, Ike (Patrick Flueger), to take Beth to an ATM and have her withdraw everyone's money. As they go off into town, Mother searches the house for any trace of the money, which she believes Daniel is hiding. She will also employ physical and psychological manipulation in the hopes of extracting information. In the meantime, a party guest named George (Shawn Ashmore), who claims to be a doctor, is forced into treating Johnny's bullet wound. He eventually meets Mother's daughter, Lydia (Deborah Ann Woll), and tries to make her see that she has been controlled through a series of lies.
The idea of a desperate situation revealing a person's true colors is indeed a good one. The first half of the film shows promise in that regard, the hostages slowly exposed as being less than authentic. Unfortunately, the filmmakers push for contrivances that could have been transplanted from the plot of just about every soap opera ever made. Ultimately, we're left with very few characters that are even remotely likable. Not that characterization matters in the long run; the second half of the film, which begins when Mother promises Johnny that he will not die a virgin, deteriorates into a nihilistic, random, and needlessly violent series of death scenes. They don't quite add up to a full-blown gore fest, although specific shots come pretty darn close.
A final revelation, which actually does little to endear Beth to the audience, paves the way for an ending that amounts to little more than overkill. That overkill even factors into the equation can only be attributed to a failure to adequately follow through on several subplots. Had all the loose ends been tied up, perhaps then we would have had a more appropriate ending, one that doesn't rely on manufactured and implausible thrills. In the hands of a different writer and director, "Mother's Day" could have worked as a humanistic crime drama. Alas, it was handed to filmmakers who care more about carnage than genuine fright. How this movie managed a four-day theatrical run, I'll never be able to figure out. Certain films aren't worthy of being projected on a big screen, even if only for a limited time.
-- Chris Pandolfi (www.atatheaternearyou.net)